When the apostle Paul spoke of his own personal dedication to the defense of the Truth, he penned these words of inspiration, “Now I would have you know, brethren, that the things which happened unto me have fallen out rather unto the progress of the gospel; so that my bonds became manifest in Christ throughout the whole praetorian guard, and to all the rest; and that most of the brethren in the Lord, being confident through my bonds, are more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear. Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife; and some also of good will: the one do it of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel; but the other proclaim Christ of faction, not sincerely, thinking to raise up affliction for me in my bonds. What then? only that in every way, whether in pretence or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and therein I rejoice, yea, and will rejoice.” Philippians 1:12-18.
There were brethren on this occasion who were made more confident by the apostles’ imprisonment and were more abundantly bold to speak the word of God without fear. It is clearly obvious that some brethren were so encouraged by the suffering and dedication of this apostle and preacher that they developed a boldness within themselves to teach the Truth. But there were also brethren there who operated out of envy and strife toward Paul, and who were preaching the Truth without sincerity in order to arouse more afflictions for Paul. But possibly we might have failed to notice that the group of brethren, who did their bold preaching out of good will, were doing so because they knew that Paul was “set for the defense of the gospel”. Were they doing what they did out of a blind allegiance to a man simply because they loved him or appreciated him? Absolutely not! They did it out of “good will” BECAUSE they knew that he was “set for the defense of the gospel!”
I am persuaded that a valuable lesson can be learned from this about our relationships toward one another as fellow Christians and more especially with those who preach. This same apostle warned us about the dangers involved when he penned the inspired words of 1 Corinthians 3: 1-7, “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, as unto babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it: nay, not even now are ye able; for ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you jealousy and strife, are ye not carnal, and do ye not walk after the manner of men? For when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not men? What then is Apollos? and what is Paul? Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him. I planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase.” We need to make special note of those who are not “anything”. It is clearly evident that such are those who are planting and watering! They are not anything as compared to the one who gives the increase, that being God! The estimate and value that we place on God should humble us and make us realize that we are not “anything” compared to God. The importance of this work and this relationship doesn’t accrue to us, it belongs totally and completely to God. Whatever you and I might accomplish in the service of Christ is absolutely and completely with God’s help and strength and all praise and glory belong exclusively to Him!
Is the planting of seed a worthy and most important work? Certainly it is. Is the watering of the seed a worthy and commendable work? Yes, indeed! But we had better not be guilty of exalting men for those deeds, especially when you think of the glory, honor, and worth which are to be placed on God who gives the increase. The scripture says, “Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: but each shall receive his own reward according to his own labor.” There is tremendous reward for anyone who labors in planting and watering, but it is God who is to be glorified for the production of fruit. Those who teach and preach are indeed valuable for their work and are described as being “God’s fellow-workers: ye are God’s husbandry, God’s building.” vs. 9. The apostle Paul’s value to the Lord’s work was described as one who “was set for the defense of the gospel”. It was this dedication and determination to stand for the Truth, not Paul’s intellectual achievements, not his excellency of speech, nor was it a “personal following” of individuals which caused the brethren to be more bold to speak the Word of God without fear. Their increase in boldness was simply because they saw that Paul was set for the defense of the gospel. In verses 4-5, we are made to realize that the ones planting and the ones watering are just men and are not to be glorified or to be given any special allegiance, “For when one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not men? What then is Apollos? and what is Paul? Ministers through whom ye believed; and each as the Lord gave to him.”
Now is it possible that we might be guilty of giving far too much attention, exaltation and allegiance to the men who preach? Surely it is not impossible that we might have forgotten the lesson of Galatians 1:10, “For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? or am I striving to please men? if I were still pleasing men, I should not be a servant of Christ.”.
Have we seriously considered the question, “is it the defense of the gospel or is it the defense of a preacher?” Have we placed what the “preacher says” above what the Word of God says? Have we become so enamored with the preacher that we have become totally blind to the fact that he may not be teaching us the Truth? When we are guilty of placing too much trust in men, then we may well be placing ourselves in very dangerous circumstances. When we get to the point that we readily conclude that “what the preacher says” has to always be right, then we may well be seeking the favor of men rather than the favor of God. When we are far more impressed and enamored with the one who is preaching than we are with what the Scriptures say, then we are definitely in deep trouble. And sometimes it can get to the point that we just forget about searching the Scriptures and are just totally confident and satisfied with “what the preacher says”. Brethren we may not want to admit it when that happens, but it clearly DOES happen and is happening in far too many churches today.
We had better awaken to the fact that we can be so overwhelmed with the admiration of the “man” that we become blind and ignorant regarding the Truth. We need to pause and consider the numerous warnings provided in the Scriptures about this very thing. “And he said unto them, Ye are they that justify yourselves in the sight of men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15). “For I say, through the grace that was given me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but so to think as to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to each man a measure of faith.” (Romans 12:3). Whether it is the preacher who thinks too highly of himself, or it be the people who place him more highly than he ought to be placed, the end result is the same, the favor of men is sought rather than the favor of God!
Since Christians are not to regard the person of men, can we truly say that we are extremely careful to be certain that the preacher is teaching us the Truth? “Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of the mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so.” (Acts 17:11). When we become so enamored with “the man” that we refuse to evaluate what he says and does, through an examination of the scripture, then we are open and vulnerable to being deceived and controlled by men!
Are we able to truly say that we are “set for the defense of the gospel” or is it becoming more and more evident that we are “Set for the Defense Of The...uh, well.., uh, uh... ‘Our Preacher’!” Preachers are deserving of love and respect for the work that they do, but let us never forget that those who plant and those who water aren’t “anything” when compared with God who gives the increase. It is because one is “set for the defense of the gospel” that you and I are able to see their work, be encouraged by it, and be more abundantly bold to speak the Word of God without fear!
Dennis L. Reed
13311 Lake George Place
Tampa, Florida 33618